Illinois (4-4, 1-3) travels to Columbus to meet No. 13 Ohio State (6-1, 3-0) in a prime time matchup this Saturday (8:00 PM ET). The Fighting Illini, off last week’s 28-24 home win over No. 24 Minnesota, will be looking for consecutive Big Ten wins for the first time since 2011. The Buckeyes, who survived a double overtime thriller at Penn State last weekend, will be aiming for their 20th consecutive Big Ten victory, which would tie the conference record set by the 2005-07 Ohio State teams.
Illinois showed some much-needed defensive backbone against Minnesota last weekend, picking up only the second Big Ten win in two and a half seasons under embattled head coach Tim Beckman. The Illini defense bent a great deal against the Gophers as it has all season, allowing 411 total yards and 171 yards rushing, but managed to force a key fourth quarter turnover that turned the tide. Illinois LB T.J. Neal stripped the football from Minnesota RB David Cobb with 6:43 left in the game and Illini cornerback V’Angelo Bentley scooped up the loose ball and ran it in for a touchdown, enabling the Illini to take the 28-24 lead. It ended up being the game’s final score.
Ohio State’s win over the Nittany Lions was a tale of two halves. The Buckeyes ran out to a 17-0 lead and looked to be headed to a blowout road win, but a Penn State pick six off an errant J.T. Barrett throw allowed the Lions to cut the lead to 10, got the home crowd back into the game and really flipped the game’s momentum. Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg warmed up the Nittany Lion passing game in the second half and it was all OSU could do to escape Happy Valley with a double-overtime win.
Given that Penn State definitely got Ohio State’s attention last weekend and the frosty response Ohio State received in the inaugural College Football Playoff Committee ranking announced on Tuesday night (No. 16, three spots lower than their AP ranking), the Illini are very likely walking into a bad spot on Saturday night. Defensive inefficiency has plagued Illinois all season. The team ranks No. 102 among FBS teams in yards per pass attempt allowed and No. 111 in yards per rushing attempt allowed. The Illini’s inability to get the Ohio State offense off the field will be their undoing on Saturday night. The Buckeyes, a 28-point home favorite, will cruise and Beckman’s reprieve from the hot seat will be short-lived.
Prediction: Ohio State 45, Illinois 14
Ohio State win probability: 98 percent
Ohio State cover probability: 56 percent